The purpose of art is to wash the dust from the daily life of our souls.
Among the bohemian culture, cabarets and galleries of Europe during the Belle Époque, Eduardo García Benito was born in Valladolid, Spain in 1891. He would become one of the most recognized painters for his contribution to magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, and has since been recognized as the Spanish artist most representative of Art Deco.
His journey in art began with the painter Mignon at the School of Fine Arts in Valladolid, and later, continued at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. In 1912, at the young age of 19, Benito — the name with which he would later gain fame — received a scholarship from the Valladolid City Council in Paris to study at the Ecolé des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he would rub elbows with the greats of his time such as Modigliani, Picasso, Juan Gris, Gargallo and José Dunyach.
Paris in the twenties was an oasis for artists and writers; an ideal place to get inspired and write wonderful texts like Hemingway or paint insatiably like Picasso. It’s storefronts were the best place in the world to appreciate exclusive new designs and fashion began to flourish and shine on those streets as brilliantly as the moon above. This was the Paris in which Benito gradually began to appear among the highest sphere of artists thanks to his unmatched talent with the brush.
The trends in which he sought inspiration while finding his own style were very diverse, from Fauvism (whose main objective was to highlight the importance of color in each work), Cubism (characterized by the innovation of geometric shapes in artistic compositions) and Futurism (focused on the plasticity of dynamism and movement); without forgetting Expressionism (which took intensity as the central axis in the expression of feelings), until finally reaching Art Deco — a style for which he remains highly renowned to this day. Jean Cocteau said that Benito’s art responded to a “cube-futurism-expressive”.
The characters that most influenced Benito were Pablo Picasso, with the use of geometric figures in his characteristic works of Cubism; Amadeo Modigliani, through his portraits of the slender women with whom he established close friendships with while living in Paris; and finally the Bracusi sculptures.
But what is Art Deco? It’s an artistic style that developed as the world was going through one of its most complicated moments — the transition between both world wars. It started in Paris and crossed the Atlantic to reach Hollywood, where is was coined “the style of the stars,” and managed to make all arts (decorative, graphic, architecture, jewelry, sculpture, painting, cinema) come together in a common point. It took small influences from the art movements that preceded it and is characterized by a discourse that spoke of progress, elegance and exaggeration. It is recognized mainly by its simple geometric shapes in contrast with rich ornamentation and decoration.
In 1918, Benito began to hold exhibitions of his work in Parisian venues such as the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts and the Salon d’Automne. A year later during another of his exhibitions at the Sauvage Gallery, he had a stroke of luck that would change his life forever. He meet designer Paul Poiret, who put him in contact with Condé Nast, thanks to which he later collaborated in Vogue and Vanity Fair making fashion illustrations. In addition, in 1920 the portrait he painted of the King of Spain Alfonso XIII, was part of the Antwerp International Exposition.
Continuing his success, in 1921 he was named a member of the Paris Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, and was often seen working on its jury of admissions. That same year he painted several portraits, including of Monsieur et Madame Paul Poiret, the poet Maurice Rostand, and the Princess Nyota Inyoka.
Two years later, in 1923, he began to move between Paris and New York, in the latter of which he did numerous jobs for the actress Gloria Swanson and began his journey into the field of fashion working for Condé Nast.
The main elements that characterize his work are the marked use of geometric figures and the representation of the stylized female figure. As an illustrator, he made the covers of significant fashion magazines such as La Gazette du Bon Ton, Le Gout du Jour, L´Homme Elegante, Vanity Fair and Vogue. He earned so much recognition with his work that he became appointed “Illustrator In Chief” at Vogue and Vanity Fair.
While in New York, he also held exhibitions in numerous art galleries such as the Wildenstein Gallery in 1924 and in 1933. In 1935, he received the Medal of Honor from the Art Directors Club in New York, and in 1974, the United States Congress congratulated García Benito for the cultural work he carried out in the country.
However, after World War II, photographers began to displace graphic artists and it was when Benito decided to end his 20-year stint in Vogue and Paris.
He returned to Valladolid in 1962 and became a professor at of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of the Immaculate Conception. It was during this period that he began to conceptualize a project that would later be known as his “frustrated dream, ” in which he dreamed of converting the old Church of the Passion into a museum with his name to house a large part of his artistic work. He was consumed with the idea of leaving a legacy and indelible mark on his homeland through this building. He drew plans for the building in details, even identifying the location for each of the paintings he wanted to put in the building.
He died at the age of ninety on Tuesday, December 1, 1981, in Valladolid — the land where he was born.
In May 2011, his work was remembered in the Municipal Exhibition Hall of the Passion Museum of Valladolid, with a sample of his most representative works made up of sixty paintings provided by the Municipal Culture Foundation of the Valladolid City Council. The mayor of the City of Javier León de la Riva said that the main purpose of this event was to rediscover the most influential Spanish Art Deco artist of the 20th century.
Without a doubt, Eduardo García Benito transcended his time and will be remembered for years to come by art lovers thanks to the amazing quality of the work he left behind. From his iconic covers for renowned fashion magazines and his countless achievements during the time of the Belle Époque.
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